THE 15-YEAR-OLD Northwest Washington youth charged with injuring an 11-year-old boy in a hit-and-run accident should not have been behind the wheel of a car. In fact, he should not have been on the streets. But he was driving along Madison Street at highway speed last Saturday, thanks to a court system that failed to treat him as a serious problem.

This chronology from official sources captures the misjudgments:

Feb. 25: Committed to city custody for robbery, force and violence, and unauthorized use of a vehicle. Ordered to a group home until age 18 by Judge Natalia Combs Greene.

Feb 25: Arrived at group home.

March 9: Absconded (escaped).

March 16: Brought to court as result of the escape, sent to Department of Human Services for placement.

May 13: Placed in a group home by Judge Combs Greene.

May 14: Absconded.

May 18: Brought to court. Sent to Oak Hill Youth Center.

May 20: Ordered immediately to group home by Judge Combs Greene.

May 22: Absconded.

At this juncture, it should have occurred to the judge that this 15-year-old needed something more than group home supervision. However, when he was arrested and charged with last Saturday's hit-and-run -- in which the 11-year-old skater was hit, carried on the hood, thrown off and then twice run over by the car as the driver tried to get away -- Judge Combs Greene ordered him returned to a group home.

Fortunately, Senior Judge George Herbert Goodrich was assigned to handle the new charges against the 15-year-old: assault with intent to kill while armed and driving without a permit. Judge Goodrich, properly, ordered the youth held in secure detention at Oak Hill, so he's no longer an immediate threat to public safety. But what about Judge Combs Greene's poor judgment?